Cookbook Review: Smokin' in the Boys' Room Proves Women Have BBQ Chops

Photo courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing
Move over, boys. Melissa's in the house.
Traditionally, barbecue has been considered a man's game. While the women stay in the kitchen and cook, the men gather 'round the barbecue and, with much fanfare and fire, cook the meat for dinner. It's a little primal and a little sexist, but we let it slide cause it's tradition.

Melissa Cookston won't stand for that, though. The two-time Memphis in May Grand Champion and three-time winner of the World Hog Championship has been putting her barbecue brethren to shame for years as co-owner of the Memphis Barbecue Company. As pitmaster, Cookston is proud to represent not only women in the restaurant industry, but also women in barbecue.

This month, she released a new cookbook, Smokin' in the Boys' Room: Southern Recipes from the Winningest Woman in Barbecue, that covers everything from Cookston's history on the competitive barbecue circuit to sauces and sides to truly make your smoked meat shine. It's not all about barbecue, though. The book also covers classic southern recipes like buttermilk fried chicken, red beans and rice and shrimp gumbo.

Photo courtesy Andrews McMeel Publishing
The recipes are detailed enough that anyone can master them if he or she has the proper tools.
Recipes or food porn: Though the cookbook is heavier on the recipes than the art, the photos that are included are mouthwatering. Many images illustrate certain recipes, but there are also photos that walk the reader through how to carve certain types of meat or show--with reverence for the animals--where the meat comes from.

The sheer number and variety of recipes makes this cookbook much more than just a coffee table tome, though. In spite of the fact that she's a competitive barbecuer, Cookston is serious about her craft, and that shows in the introduction to each unique recipe and the care she takes in describing every step of the cooking process, be it smoking a brisket or baking a pie.

Ease of use: Barbecue can be a tricky beast, and so much of the flavor that ultimately emerges is dependent upon the rub, smoker and quality of meat. Cookston does everything she can to make the process simple and easy for the lay person by detailing every step. She explains how she does things for competition and how you might want to do things for your own barbecue. She also lists very specific times and temperatures at which to cook the meat, which may, of course, vary based upon smokers and the exact size of the cut of meat. Based on Cookston's estimates, though, I have no doubt that even a novice could create some decent barbecue.

The cookbook is divided by type of meat. There are sections for pork and lamb, bacon, beef, poultry and fish and seafood, as well as a section on barbecue basics and seasonings, injections and sauces. And because no barbecue plate is complete without sides, there's a section with recipes for side dishes and classic southern desserts. This layout makes it easy for you to choose your preferred meat and work from there.

Difficulty of finding ingredients: This is a classic southern cookbook. Houston, though we're sandwiched between west Texas and the Gulf, is essentially a southern town. There is nothing in this cookbook--from racks of ribs to fresh crawfish to crappie (a type of white fish)--that you can't acquire in Houston. Some of the more obscure ingredients like said crappie or cowhorn peppers might be more difficult to find, but in these instances, substitutions are listed.

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WestSideBob topcommenter

KS ... If you want a starter smoker .. .go with an Old Smokey.  They're built in Houston and replacement parts are available should you need them.  It's a great device which doesn't take up a lot of room.  A nice & easy way to work yourself into the smoking world.  You'll get to know a lot of your neighbors when you crank it up too  :-).

And don't forget to throw veggies on the smoker.  Tomatoes and onions taste like candy when smoked with a splash of balsamic.


That Robb Walsh fellow dismisses pork bbq as not worthy of Texas; how do you feel?


@WestSideBob  Reckon I'd prefer tomatoes and onios that taste like tomatoes and onions, but to each his own.



If I recall correctly Mr Walsh is from Jersey or Connecticut--he's just overcompensating for carpetbaggery

KaitlinS topcommenter

@Effusian  Though I'm a native Texan, I moved here from Missouri, where I ate a lot of pulled pork bbq. It's still my favorite. I realize it's sacrilege here in Houston to prefer pork to brisket, but I can't help it :)

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